Maurine Akinyi, Trócaire’s Communications Assistant in Somalia, shares what it means to her to be an African woman and her passion for her work with Trócaire.
I remember being four-years’-old in my village in Western Kenya. My brother was about eight at the time, and my sister was a teenager. My brother’s education was the primary concern for my relatives. They weren’t concerned about taking me to school, and my sister was in and out of school (repeating a few classes until my brother caught up with her). I used to think that it was an embarrassment that my sister was forced to attend the same class as her younger brother. Unfortunately, she dropped out and moved to the city in her adolescence in search of a better life.
For me, I owe my education to my aunt. Without having ever attended school, she insisted that I attend and as a jobless wife and mother, my aunt (whom I define as a strong, brave, brilliant, and beautiful human being) worked twice as hard to get me there. Even though I started school 3 years later, I honour my aunt for seeing potential in me. I am proud to say that I was the first person, a woman, in my family, dating back to my patriarchal grandparents, to complete high school and earn a university degree.
‘Educating a girl educates an entire society’
An African woman is the embodiment of a courageous, creative, and beautiful human being. Even though conditions have improved, black women are still expected to do much more than men. She is not only the caregiver of a home, but also the seed of a nation. Even though she is expected to work twice as hard to achieve a meaningful life in society, her brilliance and boldness serve as her defence and tools in the fabrication of a meaningful society.
There are many challenges for African girls and women today.
African girls are often linked to wealth. A wealthy father with more daughters is respected by the society. When they reach marriageable age, the elders begin to discuss dowry. Today, many girls in some African settings, such as the Horn of Africa, are not finishing their studies because they must be married off so that the dowry can sustain their families’ lives.
It is also unfortunate that the beauty and identity of a black woman are defined by her children’s behaviour and morals. Her identity is formed by social and cultural perceptions that force her to conform to social sanctions and societal norms. I recall a conversation between my uncle and aunt. My cousin had made a mistake, and the African father remarked to his wife; “See what your son did?” This is a clear indication that nurturing a home is in the hands of a woman.
An African woman is also expected be ‘proper’ rather than real. A ‘proper’ African woman, according to traditional settings, is expected to keep quiet when men talk, especially male leaders; she is not supposed to question or challenge men’s decisions. In some societies today, a woman who questions or challenges a man is considered an outcast, and she may be embarrassed to speak publicly. So, do we women remain silent out of respect or fear?
Being an African woman in the humanitarian industry
As an African woman, I am glad to be sitting in the humanitarian space on behalf of other African women who have less or limited capacity to voice their needs.